Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Identifying the Top Trends for 2008

Identifying the Top Trends for 2008
By Tony Silber

Unless you're a fortune teller, it's harder than it appears to name the four or five things likely to most affect your business in the coming 12 months. Here, five execs try.

The Internet is, by far, having the most profound effect on the magazine industry and judging from a quick poll with the five executives that follow, its impact is felt in every facet of the business. In this informal poll, we asked an assortment of publishers what they feel are the top trends affecting their businesses in the coming year and many are still pondering how to best take advantage of digital opportunities and how they impact brand, content value and skill sets. There are other major trends to contend with, of course-distribution and audience measurement, for example-but the Internet is still proving to be the "elephant in the room."

Rex Hammock
Hammock Publishing

1. Lack of confidence or conviction by those at the top. This is such a cliché, but there seem to be train-wrecks whenever those who try to manage media companies with Excel spreadsheets take over. They want to stop calling magazines "magazines," and call them "branding platforms" or something. They start having to make decisions that are all or nothing-as in, "this idea has to generate $25 million a year or we can't touch it." Some of the folks leading giant media companies appear to me-an outside observer-to be like that line from a John Mellancamp song: a person who won't stand for something will fall for anything. That's why I'm a fan of Condé Nast over, say, Time Inc. At Condé Nast, they seem to know what business they're in. Look on their Web site and it says, "We're in the magazine business," even though they're in all sorts of media businesses beyond magazines. At Time Inc., the largest magazine business in the world, they are running away from calling themselves a magazine business.

2. How advertising decisions are made. For consumer magazines-the mass media type-these days must be especially frightening. Advertising folks are perhaps more confused than people in the publishing business. They have "budgets" and they want to place "buys" but they don't really know what they want. And, frankly, their historic business models and practices make the need to manage by Excel spreadsheets too much a part of their DNA. I feel for them as they need to spend lots of money and they don't have time to really understand the nuances of different opportunities. But I don't feel the client's best interest is always served by the current RFP process.

3. The Internet. It's the elephant in the room. I think it provides the greatest opportunity for publishing companies to totally redefine and transform what they do. However, it also provides the best opportunity to totally blow it and crash and burn. So much about the Internet-how it is used for business decision-making, for instance-has changed the role of publishers, but so many of the opportunities involve "cannibalizing" cash cows. It's like tight-rope walking with no safety net, which I'm sure is exhilarating, but I'll let others test that theory.

Paul Rolnick
Consumer Marketing Director

1. True Synergy. We need to figure out how to integrate our digital content (in potentially many forms) and print content so it's synergistic, not just moving readers from one medium to another.

2. Devaluation of content. Digital media is rapidly becoming entirely free, 100 percent ad-supported. This undermines our ability to charge fairly for printed content. A positive spin on that is it furthers the trend towards audience-based measurement of media. However, it also furthers the idea that professional, high quality content should be free. That's not in our long-term interest.
3. Newsstand profitability for all links in the supply chain. Factors mentioned so far mitigate against this since they all act to depress consumer demand for content, particularly at full price. But the weeklies' recent success (probably peaking) shows that newsstand vitality and momentum are still incredibly important to the industry. It shows that in spite of all the contra indicators people still love print media.

Nick Matarazzo
EVP Group Publishing Director
Hachette Filipacchi Media

1. We're still targeted. This is the original opt-in media. This medium is a reader choice, while other media are often consumed as background noise where the advertising is interruptive. Magazines are targeted, which leads to engagement, which leads to accountability.

2. We're in the brand business. We have a great opportunity if we don't view ourselves as being in the magazine business. We're really in the brand business, although the brand may be anchored in print. The question is how we leverage the brand content across as many mediums as the consumer wants.

3. It's about community. Magazines have always been about communities of people with similar or shared passions and interests. And interactivity has always been a part of a magazine's relationship with its readers. These traits are key to operating in the digital world and they are not new to us. Magazines have always lived in a world of consumer choice and control whether to purchase or not, or turn the page or not.

Ray Chelstowski
Rolling Stone

1. Engagement and accountability. More than ever our advertising partners are looking to justify their media investment. In turn, any device that can demonstrate that readers have interacted with their messaging is considered a "cost of entry."

2. A sound circulation strategy. Advertisers want to know in advance that the schedule they are about to place with a title will be met with circulation guarantees that extend beyond an agreed to ratebase. What they want to better understand is the strategy behind our circulation goals and guarantees. Quality is just as important as quantity and we as an industry will continue to be challenged to deliver excellence in every practice.

3. Talent retention. Our ability to recruit talent, develop skill sets, and retain the people we groom will be central to our ability to succeed in this changing media landscape.

Peter Goldstone
President, Business Media Group
Hanley Wood

1. Go deep. Yesterday, it was wide diversification and big holding companies. Today, it's deep market focus and ownership-building out from a strong core position and not losing sight of that core.

2. True content integration. Creating a true integration of content, sales and audience strategy serving that core market across all media available.
3. First to market. Speed to market matters. Innovation is happening at an accelerated pace. You must be first in and then iterate. Learn on the fly, but jump into the opportunity quickly, and be very nimble.

4. Maintain quality. Quality matters more than ever. Cut through the noise with top-quality expertise and delivery of that expertise through multiple media and data information products.

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